Arts News: Healing and Happiness Through Piano

Pianist Grace Odell combines elements of yoga and mindfulness with piano improvisation in her Resonate workshops. (from the artist)

Finding ways to connect with community and grow as an individual are some of the greatest challenges of this pandemic. Pianist Grace Odell wants to introduce people to the piano as a source of healing and connection.

To that end, she created a new online workshop series that combines elements of yoga and mindfulness with piano improvisation.

“I want to make piano the new fad,” said Odell, “experimenting with music . . . with no stigma.” She encourages people to realize that piano doesn’t have to be a career to be beneficial and bring happiness.

Odell graduated from UMKC Conservatory in 2019 with two master’s degrees, one in music history and one in piano performance. She started Odell Music Institute, where she teaches students of all ages and uses many different approaches: learning to read music, play by ear, and improvise.

Improvisation is rarely part of the classical music curriculum, though it’s integral to jazz and other forms of music.

“It was something I never came in contact with in my formal training,” said Odell. So, she started exploring improvisation on her own. “It was a lot easier to do than I expected, and just exploring that was really a self-taught thing. Then teaching my students, we’re exploring together, and really that’s what improvisation is, exploring and experimenting.”

As she’s developed her in-studio teaching style, she wanted to extend these opportunities to more people.

“I had this thought: If I only saw a student one time, what could I teach them that they could then take and use on their own?” she asked. “I want to get people started and empowered in their own creativity and their own ability to experiment musically.”

To that end, she created a series of workshops, called Resonate, which started last December.

After the initial workshops, she redesigned the program to include recorded videos as well as live online workshops, launched in April. The structure addresses absolute beginners as well as seasoned pianists.

Odell has practiced both yoga and meditation for many years and saw how elements of each could assist not only with the technique of piano playing but also the enjoyment of it.

“I’d found in my own personal piano practice my gut was to ignore my body while I’m playing and just let it be my brain that was working. That just doesn’t work, because obviously brains can’t play piano all by themselves,” she said.

Like a yoga class, Odell guides participants through a series of movements at the piano, incorporating body scan meditation and breathing exercises.

“Honestly, for me, that’s the best way to reach that flow state of being lost in the music.”

Her first round of participants came from across the United States, from the Midwest and the East Coast. Since the workshops were created for an online format, place is not the barrier to participation that it once was.

“I’ve learned more about technology this year than my whole life combined. But having learned so much about it has empowered me to see that the technology may have been the best option for this.”

She addresses other accessibility barriers, too, offering a free trial and even a free membership level. “My whole mission with this is to empower people to experiment musically and feel creative.”

To learn more about Resonate, visit www.odellmusicinstitute.com/aboutresonate.

Libby Hanssen

Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She maintains the culture blog, “Proust Eats a Sandwich,” and writes poetry and children’s books. She holds a master’s degree in trombone performance from UMKC Conservatory and currently works at UMKC’s Music/Media Library.

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